New York Counties Want State to Share More 911 Surcharge Fees


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New York county officials want the state to part with more of the 911 surcharge fees. The state makes about $185 million a year from the $1.20 public safety surcharge fee for wireless customers.

The New York State Association of Counties said the fee was meant to strengthen the network of 911 systems, funded and operated by its members, reports the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. NYSC President William Cherry says nearly all the money is sent to the state government’s general fund.

But now that the FCC intends to strengthen 911 call centers and Wireless Emergency Alerts, 911 call center managers say they need more of the surcharge money so they can upgrade equipment and technology. The counties believe the cost to transmit text, plus embed images and video in WEA alerts will exceed $2 billion over the next decade.

“We would be able to know where people are calling from right away, and be able to ping their phone,” says Robert O’Brien, director of Otsego County 911 call center. Yet his county still has many “dead zones” where wireless callers can’t connect to a cell tower.  

Niagara County Emergency Communications Director Marc Kasprzak says his center fielded about 114,000 calls to 911 last year. About 4 in 5 were placed by wireless phones.  That agrees with FCC data; some 70 percent of 911 calls now come via cell phone, Inside Towers recently reported. However 911 call centers were built with wireline phones in mind.

According to legislation supporting the counties’ position, they could collect $100 million+ a year collectively. That compares to just over $9 million they receive now, reports the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. The measure introduced by Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Albany County, would remove discretion from the state in determining how to spend the 911 tax money and requires nearly 60 percent to be sent to counties to improve communications centers.  He wants the same surcharge to be imposed on prepaid wireless accounts which are now exempt from the tax; the NYSC supports this measure.

Counties do receive communications grants from various sources, but O’Brien said his county was forced to borrow millions of dollars to build a network of new towers and buy a new emergency radio system — a bill that will be passed to county taxpayers.

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